Big deal for Aronofsky

Dimension inks mid six-figure pact with first-time helmer

In what many consider an unprecedented payday for an unproven filmmaker, Dimension Films has inked tyro Darren Aronofsky — winner of the 1998 Sundance Fest’s director’s award for “Pi” — to a $600,000 pay- or-play deal to direct “Proteus,” a screenplay he co-wrote with Lucas Sussman.

In addition to the fee Aronofsky will receive to direct the WWII sci-fi thriller, he and Sussman received $300,000 upfront against a $600,000 back-end price for their screenplay.

Follow-up deal

Moreover, Dimension has an option with an agreed upon directing fee on Aronofsky’s follow-up film — assuming “Proteus” gets made and the two parties can agree on the second picture.

“Proteus” is described as a historical sci-fi thriller that takes place on an American submarine during World War II. Allies fleeing German U-boats find themselves dodging Nazi depth-charges dropped from above while an alien monster is attacking them from below.

Amazing achievement

“We’re thrilled to have a bright young talent like Darren join the Dimension team,” said company co-chairman Bob Weinstein, who made the announcement. “It’s an amazing achievement for a first-time filmmaker to win the Sundance Director’s Award.”

New Line Cinemas also is understood to have made an offer for “Proteus” and Aronofsky’s services, but Dimension’s big check, pay-or-play deal ended any competition for the pic.

“Proteus” is a far cry from “Pi,” Aronofsky’s $60,000 black-and-white debut, which he financed in the now customary indie fashion: using his own credit cards and a series of investments from family members.

Artisan Entertainment (then Live Ent.) purchased the worldwide rights to “Pi” — a sci-fi thriller about a renegade mathematician searching for numerical order in the New York stock exchange — for reportedly more than $1 million during this year’s Sundance. Pic is slated to begin its platform release in July.

“Proteus” will be co-produced by Eric Watson.

Dimension Films prexy Cary Granat and Miramax VP of business and legal affairs Brian Burkin negotiated the deal on behalf of the Gotham mini-major.

Aronofsky was repped by ICM and attorney Jeremy Barber of Loeb & Loeb.

(Dan Cox contributed to this report.)